The Girls in Grey

The Girls in Grey_reviewThree young women, each from a different background, each with different motivations, enlist in the Australian Army Nursing Service to assist during World War One. They find themselves in an unfamiliar land, right in the middle of fierce battles, treating horrific war injuries without facilities or equipment.

Their individual responses to their situation provide a remarkably powerful insight into the world and the work of nurses in the Australian Army Nursing Service in the Turkish battlefields during the first World War. Playwrights Carolyn Bock and Helen Hopkins have drawn on actual letters, diaries and eyewitness accounts preserved in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra to fashion this candid, moving and impressively presented account of life on active service.

Gently allegorical The Girls in Grey is presented, without interval, on Alexandra Hiller’s elegant, evocative setting of notepaper messages pinned to a make-shift hessian army hospital tent. As the play begins the three nurses, played in delicately pitched performances by the authors, Carolyn Bock and Helen Hopkins together with Samantha Murray, dressed in long grey flannel dresses, prepare their uniforms, read from the notes, and muse on their lives, aspirations and ambitions. Their various male relatives, lovers and patients are all portrayed by James O’Connell.

Tom Healey’s tightly choreographed, almost balletic, direction provides a mesmerising rhythm to the production. The clarity and diction of the three nurses is striking as they tell their stories in carefully measured sentences, sometimes alone, sometimes in unison, punctuated by moments of meaningful silence. Occasionally they utilise their hands and aprons to mime medical procedures, emerging or disappearing almost ghost-like from the deep shadows of Nick Merrylees superb lighting, enhanced by Nick van Cuylenburg’s chillingly atmospheric sound design.

The production reaches its highpoint in a stunning finale where the three women, moving in unison, and in silence, slowly and ceremoniously lay out dozens of red poppies reminiscent of the graves of the war dead. It’s a graceful and affecting image which allows the audience time to reflect on the play’s powerful message of resilience and remembrance.

Seen on this occasion at the Q in Queanbeyan on the eve of Anzac Day as part of its NSW tour, The Girls in Grey proved the perfect entrée to Australia’s most significant day of remembrance.

Director: Tom Healey  Cast: Carolyn Bock, Helen Hopkins, Samantha Murray, James O’Connell  Set Designer: Alex Hiller  Costume Design: Lyn Wilson  Lighting Design: Nick Merrylees  Sound Design: Nick Van Guylenberg

The Girls in Grey
The Q Theatre, 253 Crawford St, Queanbeyan, NSW
Performance: Thursday 24 April 2014
Season: 24 – 26 April 2014

The Girls in Grey is presented by Critical Stages and The Shift Theatre and is touring NSW and Victoria throughout May/June 2014. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: The Girls in Grey – courtesy of Critical Stages

Review: Bill Stephens